Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sunday Story - A Little Life

I've spent the last (maybe) 6 weeks reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I've had to read it in little bursts, reading other books in between (like my book club books because they had to read before discussion, but also lighter books to soothe me, and also ebooks because the paperback is too huge to hold in bed), but it was well worth reading.

There is nothing LITTLE in this book. For a start, it's a door stop at 720 pages. It's an epic story of life. Ostensibly it's the story of four men who meet at college and we follow their life into their early 50s...but we have their backgrounds, their childhoods, plus the lives and childhoods of their many and varied friends.

Malcolm, JB, Willem and Jude are the 4 main characters, yet the book's main focus is Jude. Jude has had an awful life. Until the age of fifteen he was constantly and horrifically abused - sexually, mentally and physically. He's tried to obliterate those memories by compartmentalising them...but they haunt him.

There's nothing little about Jude's abuse. It's everything abhorrent that you can imagine. There's systematic abuse in private institutions and the public system. There's abuse on a personal, one-on-one level. There's power plays. Relationship rape and abuse. Self abuse. It's horrific. Yet, in all this awfulness, Jude is a somewhat admirable character. You can't help but love a man who goes through so much, yet is still a decent person.

There's nothing little about the men's lives. They all have different starting points, but each man reaches incredible heights in their careers. It's somewhat unrealistic in reality, but it's a nice countermeasure in the story.

There's nothing little about the secondary characters - there are a bazillion!! People who make random cameos throughout. Others who come for a short time and then vanish. Others who always remain. Keeping track of all these people was difficult, especially after a reading break. But it's life - or at least my life. There are many and varied people involved in my life.

There's nothing little about the emotional journey of the book. It's a roller coaster. The last 60 odd pages, I read while sobbing my heart out. I do cry in books, but this was gut-wrenching sobbing where I was worried I'd wake hubby (luckily he sleeps like the dead!!). And yet, I had to keep reading. I had to get to the end.

There's nothing little about the writing. There are sentences, paragraphs, whole sections that are exquisite. There are beautiful depictions of scenery, emotion, life, relationships, family, death, art, architecture, medicine, movies, culture, food. In some ways, the book takes a look at the little every day beauty of life and love. But that's not all because it looks at the big picture of life too.

This book is haunting and horrifying, but also beautiful. It shows the very worst of humans, and the very best of humans. It shows the worst and the best sides of characters - that remain loveable/likeable. It shows the horrifying impact of abuse in any form. It shows the healing power of love and acceptance and friendship...but also how fragile and fleeting that can be. It depicts the power of sex without love, and the power of love without sex.

It's a powerful book. A haunting piece. A huge mammoth read. And I really don't have any idea how to explain the impact of this book. One part of me thinks that every person in the world should have to read it; yet another part of me wants to shelter people from the harshness of the story.

Maybe the telling thing is that I bought it in paperback thinking that Dad and Mr E would also read it - but now that I have, I'm not sure that they will. I might leave it sitting around and allow people to pick it up if they want to.


  1. That's a really great review, Cate. Nothing little about your review at all. I don't think this would be for me, somehow.

    1. Thanks, Lily :)

      Yeah, I don't think this is a book for everyone. Although I think people should be made to be aware of the long term implications of abuse.

      Actually, after the last few days, I think everyone should be made to understand action-reaction and cause-effect. I have trouble understanding how voting one way, can then lead to such civic unrest when the result happens. I don't recall such backlash in other years, but it's occurred in the UK and the US. Although maybe it's just that news is so in-your-face these days, so we hear about it more.

      Anyway, thank you for visiting and reading :)

      Cate xox